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How old is too old to drive?

At what age should we stop getting behind the wheel? Debate surrounding driving and age has been heated after recent events in the United Kingdom with The Duke of Edinburgh’s recent serious car accident and subsequent reports that his wife Queen Elizabeth has decided to quit driving on public roads.

While the Queen, 92, is the only UK resident who doesn’t require a driver’s licence, Prince Philip, 97, voluntarily surrendered his licence after he rolled his Land Rover, injuring the occupants of an oncoming vehicle.

In Australia, according to data from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics between 2007 and 2018, road fatalities involving drivers aged 65-75 years have increased 2.3% and involving drivers 75 years and over have increased 1.2%. They are the only age groups where fatalities have increased over the time period. With a rapidly increasing ageing population these are concerning statistics, however, younger drivers are still the most represented age groups in road fatalities overall.

Driving and age in Australia

In the UK, drivers must renew their licence every three years once they reach 70 years of age. While most laws regarding driving age are more stringent in Australia than the UK, they do vary from state to state.

In Queensland, drivers over the age of 75 are required to carry a valid medical certificate when they get behind the wheel or they could be fined. The certificate is issued by a doctor, whether or not they have a medical condition, and it must be renewed every 13 months.

In New South Wales drivers from the age of 75 must have an annual medical assessment to retain their licence. From the age of 85, they must pass a practical driving test every second year to keep an unrestricted licence in addition to their annual medical assessment. A modified licence may be issued under certain circumstances.

In Victoria there is no set age where drivers must pass a test or have a medical assessment. The onus is on drivers to decide they’re no longer capable of driving. It is only if they develop a medical condition or disability that they may have to undergo a medical review.

In Western Australia after you turn 80 you are required to undergo an annual medical assessment to renew your driver’s licence. After the age of 85 you may need to pass a practical test if it is recommended by your doctor.

In the ACT drivers aged 75 or more must have an annual medical examination by their doctor.

In Tasmania and the Northern Territory there is no age limit for medical examinations, instead all drivers are legally responsible to report any medical conditions that will affect their ability to drive.

Age is more than a number

It’s well known that the advancing years can impact our ability to drive – our responsiveness and reflexes begin to slow as our sight and hearing deteriorate. What is less known or discussed is the effect of medications on driving. Older people are more likely to be prescribed or take medication that could have an impact on their driving skills. Blood pressure medications, painkillers and insomnia drugs can all adversely affect our ability to drive.

It is best to speak to your doctor about how these medications, along with age, can impact you on the road. A simple change in drug or awareness of the medication taken could be all it takes to ensure you can continue to drive safely.

Distracted drivers

Being distracted while driving is generally seen to be a younger driver issue. Contrary to this widely-held belief, a recent report in the Australia Road Safety Journal, Distraction and Older Drivers, revealed that older drivers spent 37% of driving time engaged in secondary tasks. These included talking to a passenger and adjusting controls. Older people were also more likely to be distracted at more critical times, such as driving at high speeds.

Self-limiting older drivers

While older motorists may experience a decline in their responsiveness and sight, they are able to recognise their limitations more easily than younger drivers. Consequently, older drivers tend to get behind the wheel less overall, particularly at night or in bad weather, and they also drive at lower speeds according to research from Monash University’s Accident Research Centre.

As our ageing population continues to grow it crucial to be aware of the challenges facing older drivers to keep ourselves, our loved ones and the general public, safe on our roads.

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If you’ve been injured in a motor vehicle accident – whether it involved a car, motorbike, bicycle or any other kind of vehicle, you may be eligible for compensation. Shine Lawyers works on a 'no win, no fee' basis.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: April 23, 2019.

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